/ 27 January 2009

Shebeen owners protest W Cape liquor Act

Several hundred shebeen owners and workers marched to the Western Cape legislature in central Cape Town on Tuesday in protest against proposed new liquor legislation, said police.

Superintendent Andre Traut said shebeen owners had originally applied to have 12 000 people take part, but on Tuesday only 600 people arrived to march from Keizergracht to the legislature, where a memorandum was handed over.

Their action concerned the Western Cape Liquor Act, which was approved by the provincial legislature in November last year.

Three of the Act’s clauses were brought into effect on January 1. The rest of the Act’s regulations had not yet been signed into law and were still open for public comment.

The provincial Liquor Act seeks to control the proliferation of drinking places in residential areas, and to crack down on retailers and distributors who supply illegal shebeens, through penalties including heavy fines, jail terms and forfeiture of assets.

On Monday the Cape Times reported that police had been raiding and closing illegal shebeens since sections of the Act came into effect on January 1.

People applying for licences had also complained of delays. Earlier, this month, the Mail and Guardian reported that the Western Cape had 3 200 legal sellers of alcohol and about 30 000 illegal outlets, most of which would be shut down under the new law.

Officials had estimated that between 60 000 and 100 000 jobs may be at stake, it was reported.

On Tuesday Western Cape minister of finance, economic development and tourism Garth Strachan, who has been pivotal in driving the legislation forward, said he received a list of demands from the protesters about the legislation.

”Government is sympathetic to those whose work in unlicensed shebeens puts food on the table,” he said.

”But given the undeniable relationship between alcohol abuse and violence — particularly against women and children, and on the roads — it would be extremely irresponsible to allow its continued unfettered distribution in our communities.”

Strachan also said the Western Cape had one of the highest recorded rates of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

He said shebeens and taverns operating illegally were encouraged to apply for a licence. At present there were about 900 licensed shebeens in the province.

An alternative job-creation programme for those currently in the illegal industry was also being worked out.

Strachan said the long-term benefits of the Act for crime prevention and health outweighed immediate negative effects such as loss of income.

”We cannot realistically or sustainably address poverty through illegal means.”

Strachan said the Act did not exclusively target illegal shebeens.

”It is aimed at regulating all illegal distribution of liquor, be it by retailers and their agents — or unlicensed pubs, taverns and shebeens.”

He said his office had received support from communities, especially those who lived in close proximity to liquor outlets associated with crime and gangsterism.

The economic development department would help operators ”not linked to criminal activity” to apply for licences which required zoning permission, and to move their businesses to areas zoned as commercial, where it was appropriate.

Strachan also said a public-education campaign would be launched to clearly explain the Act to the public.

An opinion poll and an economic-impact assessment would be conducted in affected areas.

On Monday the Cape Times reported that the public had until Friday to comment on the draft regulations. By Monday apparently only five submissions had been made.

The regulations would be considered for approval in February and promulgated in March.

Also on Tuesday the City of Cape Town asked for comment on its draft by-laws regarding liquor trading days and hours, before the end of February.

The city’s draft by-law proposes regulating the hours and days of trading by licensed liquor establishments based on the city’s zoning regulations, but within the parameters of the provincial Liquor Act. — Sapa